Wednesday, March 5, 2014

'I am an American'


Declaration of Independence - Courtesy The National Archives

In his speech, I am an American, Gouverneur Morris reflected on what defines a strong nation and good government.  Does America still project the same image to the world today?  Here is an excerpt from Morris’s speech given in 1800:

A nation truly great cannot but excel in arts as well as in arms.*  And as a great mind stamps with its own impression the most common arts, so national greatness will show itself alike in the councils of policy, in the works of genius, in monuments of magnificence and deeds of glory.  

Does the United States fall within the scope of Morris’s description of a great nation? 

Morris continues:

“It is in the national spirit.  It is in that high, haughty, generous, and noble spirit which prizes glory more than wealth and holds honor dearer than lifeIt is that spirit, the inspiring soul of heroes, which raises men above the level of humanity.  It is present with us when we read the story of ancient Rome.  It swells our bosoms at the view of her gigantic deeds and makes us feel that we must ever be irresistible while human nature shall remain unchanged.  I have called it a high, haughty, generous, and noble spirit.  It is  high-elevated above all low and vulgar considerations.  It is haughty-despising whatever is little and mean, whether in character, council, or conduct.  It is generous – granting freely to the weak and to the indigent protection and support.  It is noble – dreading shame and dishonor as the greatest evil, esteeming fame and glory beyond all things human.”

In the 18th century, people valued honor above life.  Indeed, the Founders placed their “sacred honor” – something they valued more than life itself – on the line when they signed the Declaration of Independence.  Do our leaders value honor more than life today?

Morris closes his speech:

“When this spirit prevails, the government, whatever its form, will be wise and energetic because such government alone will be borne by such men.  And such a government, seeking the true interest of those over whom they preside, will find it in the establishment of a national character becoming the spirit by which the nation is inspired.  Foreign powers will then know that to withhold a due respect and deference is dangerous, that wrongs may be forgiven but that insults will be avenged.  As a necessary result every member of the society bears with him everywhere full protection, and when he appears his firm and manly port mark him of a superior order in the race of  man.  The dignity of sentiment which he has inhaled with his native air gives to his manner an ease of superior to the politeness of courts and a grace unrivaled by the majesty of kings.  These are blessings which march in the train of national greatness and come on the pinions of youthful hope.  I anticipate the day when to command respect in the remotest regions it will be sufficient to say, ‘I am an American.’”    

When confronted by the world, do our leaders project the unique spirit of America today or have we already lost our identity as a nation under the weight of multi-culturalism?


*My emphasis added.

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